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Strikes Shut Down Transit System, Grocery Stores in Los Angeles - 2003-10-17

Los Angeles residents are coping with three labor disputes that are making everyday life more difficult. The most serious is a transit strike that has put the brakes on buses that serve half a million people.

The strike against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority started Tuesday, when 2,200 mechanics walked off the job. Six thousand bus and train drivers then walked out in support.

The strike is affecting students and low-income workers, who rely on public transit, and one economist says it is costing the local economy at least $6 million a day.

At issue is the rising cost of health benefits. But Los Angeles county supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who has oversight on the transit agency, foresees a settlement if the union is receptive. "We want to wrap this thing up and get an agreement by Saturday night, at the latest, dawn Sunday," he said. "If we can get an agreement by Saturday night, Sunday morning, we can have the buses rolling in this city again by Monday morning, in time for school and time for work."

The union's chief negotiator, James Williams, is more pessimistic. He says transit managers have not made an acceptable offer. "Just come in and say, this is what we can afford, and let's get the busses rolling. Stop playing games," he said.

In a second dispute, 70,000 clerks are on strike against three of the largest grocery chains in Southern California. The dispute is now in its sixth day and is also over benefits, mostly health insurance. In the town of Avalon, an island community off the coast of Los Angeles, the only supermarket in town is surrounded by picketers, who discourage some residents from shopping there. Those who don't, face a 42 kilometer ferry ride to the mainland for their groceries.

A work slowdown by Los Angeles deputy sheriffs is also affecting the region. The law enforcement officers are at odds with the county over pensions and benefits. The deputies are forbidden to strike, but more than 500 called in sick Wednesday in what their department calls an illegal labor slowdown.